“I need to breathe, but I don't have the time.”
My Facebook status from seven years ago popped up on my feed last night, a reminder of college essays, all-nighters, messy friendships, unattended Bible studies, and unrequited crushes of my sophomore year of college. (Also, a reminder of when I posted every thought as a Facebook status without any sort of filter).
I gave a painful laugh upon reading it, amused by the irony that seven years later not much has changed. I was sitting on my couch, debating whether or not to go to my church community group, on the verge of tears as I shared with my roommates how stressed I felt, how busy I had become, how tired my body and my heart were. And it was blanketed by this heavy resignation: I don't know what I can do to change it.
Go, go, go, go. This has been the pace of life lately. And in the moments where I pause or try to slow down, it feels like my mind starts outrunning my body, my heart threatens to beat right out of my chest, and my soul feels jerked back, like when someone suddenly slams on the brakes on the freeway.
Ironically, I think my faith makes me more tired.
On top of being a good friend, a good daughter, a good roommate, a good human… I feel this overwhelming burden to be a good Christian. Somehow my belief in God’s love has translated into the word “more.” I need to do more good, care more about things, love more people, go to more things, read more of my Bible and spend more time with Jesus. If I am being completely honest, I have often equated the voice of the world (“You are what you do--and you aren't doing enough.”) with the voice of Jesus, a lovingly stern boss who looks at progress reports, shakes his head, and looks at me with a resigned disappointment (which, as children, we learn is so much worse than anger): “Not bad, but I want you to do better next time.”
So I soldier on. I evaluate my progress and I say to myself, more is better, so I will do more! I just need to manage my time better, sleep more, wake up earlier, stay up later, spend more time with friends, read more Bible, and then I won't feel this hurry in my heart all the time. Rarely do I realize I'm moving so fast that I can't tell the real voice of Jesus from the words I've put in his mouth.
The real Jesus in John 10 calls himself the “Good Shepherd.” The real Jesus warns against other voices, against the thief and the robber who will try to convince the sheep they are the real shepherd. Real Jesus says: “The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I don't think Jesus meant full lives in the sense that we would always feel we were bursting at the seams, our schedules so full and our hearts so tired that just one more drop of anything will break the fragile dam that holds our mess together. Jesus came to give us the fullness of life, not the fullest life.
I am tired of being tired. So, last night, I did the unthinkable and I stopped. I stopped and told God I was done running and trying to be better by doing more. I stopped and told God I wanted the real thing, the real Shepherd. And I heard the Good Shepherd say two things:
“You don't have to be perfect.” I know this intellectually, but I don't live it. I sat and wrestled with why that is, the fears I have about letting people down, about letting God down, about needing to earn love and acceptance and worth. I remember my anxiety in school went like this: if I fail this exam, I will fail this class, and then I won't get into grad school, and I will never get a job, and then I'll be homeless, and then I will die alone. Now, it goes a little something like this: if I don't finish this task or meet this person, they will never know Jesus, and then I will have failed at my job, and people will stop giving financially, and then I will end up homeless, and then I will die alone.
But the voice of the Shepherd says, “And I will still love you. Even if the mountains crumble into the sea, even if the worst of the worst happens, I will be your strength, your refuge, your family.” My unbelieving self asks, “But is that enough? If all I have is God and none of my accomplishments or the love of others, will that be enough?” But the only way to find out is if I stop chasing after those things.
“You don't have to do this alone.” This is the difference between a soldier and a daughter. As a soldier or an employee, my relationship with God is dependent on what I do for Him and how well I complete the mission; every task is a chance for a performance review. As a daughter, my relationship with Him is already secure, and out of that He invites me to a life of adventure and trust. Instead of failure or success resting squarely on my shoulders, God takes my hand and says, “Let’s go on an adventure. I want you to be a part of what I'm doing.” Instead of living in paralysis, or fear of failure (which is why my tendency when I'm stressed is to either overwork or binge watch Parks and Rec), I can love people, write things, plan events, have hard conversations, share my faith, and do good work knowing that Jesus doesn't send me out to do it on my own and that He won't leave me or be disappointed if I fail.
I'm still learning what this looks like practically, how I can joyfully embrace the rhythms of work and rest without being defined by my productivity or confined to a life of empty rest. But I think it starts by making the time to breathe. In the moments where it feels like I'm so busy that I can't stop, to do the unthinkable and stop. To exhale and release the burdens I hold: the world will not end if this doesn't happen, my life will not be over, my identity will not be changed. To inhale and remember: I can be imperfect, messy, incomplete, in-progress and still be absolutely loved by a God who calls me “child.”